Always By Your Side - Chapter 15
Chapter 15: Jade Spring Bottle
Yuanyuan thought about how Uncle Shenghua dealt with a host of problems every day and mostly went to the hospital at night. Therefore, it was probably very boring for Cheng Bai during his hospitalization. He went so far as to repeatedly call Yuanyuan on the phone—telling her to bring him takeout and saying that the food prepared by the nurses did not appeal to his appetite. Yuanyuan wanted to ignore him at first, but when she thought about how much she owed Uncle Shenghua, she had to settle the debt.
Thus, in recent days, the time Yuanyuan had from lunch breaks and after work were all devoted to Cheng Bai.
On Wednesday evening after Fu Beichen finished his work, he visited Cheng Bai at the H University Affiliated Hospital at the request of Professor Fu. Professor Fu had learned about Cheng Bai’s hospitalization from Deputy Dean Zheng the day before. Professor Fu felt that, although the Fu family and the Cheng family had very little contact, they ultimately shared origins. Furthermore, during his own hospitalization, Cheng Bai had gone to visit him. This time, Cheng Bai was injured in the course of doing his work. Emotionally and logically, their family should visit him. Professor Fu’s leg was still an inconvenience, so he let his son make the trip. Fu Beichen felt that it ought to be this way.
It was almost eleven o’clock when Fu Beichen arrived at the hospital. Holding a basket of fruits as well as a bouquet of carnations, he went up to the VIP ward. There, he asked the nurse for Cheng Bai’s room number, only to be told that Doctor Cheng’s little sister was pushing him on a walk downstairs.
“Little sister?” Fu Beichen thought, If I wait, who knows how long it’ll be. He said: “These fruits and flowers, I’ll take them to his room. When he’s back, please tell him that I’ll come and see him next time. My last name is Fu.”
When Fu Beichen placed his things and walked downstairs, he gazed into the distance at a pavilion not far away. Cheng Bai was sitting in a wheelchair, and standing behind him was Cheng Yuanyuan.
“Little sister, huh?” The corners of his mouth raised slightly, and he walked towards them.
Yuanyuan discovered that Fu Beichen was coming over. She was astonished. When he approached, she asked: “Why did you come to the hospital?”
“I came to see Cheng Bai.” Soon after, Fu Beichen faced Cheng Bai and gave his greetings.
Cheng Bai expressed gratitude to anyone that came to visit him.
When Fu Beichen was about to leave, he asked Yuanyuan if she would also be going, as it wasn’t too early anymore. Yuanyuan indeed wanted to go home—these days, her office and the hospital were simply too tiring. She told Cheng Bai: “I’ll call the nurse for you.” Taking the patient out for a walk was originally the nurse’s duty.
“No need, I can get one myself,” Cheng Bai said expressionlessly.
Yuanyuan thought for a while. She felt it wasn’t a big deal, so she said: “Okay, then I’m leaving.”
Fu Beichen gave Cheng Bai a nod and left the pavilion with Yuanyuan. Not long after, Wang Yang, who was wearing a neck brace, appeared during his post-meal walk. He approached Cheng Bai’s side and saw him looking at a certain place. Wang Yang curiously followed his line of sight. Twenty or thirty metres away, a man and a woman were standing by a car talking. The woman looked young and lively, while the man looked incomparably refined. They were very well-matched.
Wang Yang looked back at Cheng Bai again, and said with a smile: “That’s your legendary little sister?” He had gone to the door of Cheng Bai’s hospital room twice but had never once met Yuanyuan. Although some medical staff told him about Cheng Bai’s younger sister, none of them had ever mentioned her name.
Cheng Bai withdrew his gaze. His tone was not very good. “She and I don’t have the slightest blood or legal relationship.”
Wang Yang was stunned, then he grasped a bit of a clue. “She couldn’t be Cheng Yuanyuan, right?”
Seeing that Cheng Bai did not deny it, Wang Yang once again looked at the man and woman twenty metres away with astonishment. It took a long time before he said to Cheng Bai, “Honestly speaking, I’ve always thought you were a person with both integrity and talent. You’re conscientious in all your duties. But it always feels like you’re just completing a task, that your heart’s not in it. And towards the matters of men and women, you’re numb. In truth, is it that you like her but she likes someone else? Therefore, you can’t tell her that you like her. And then all year round you repress your emotions, leading to sealed emotions?”
Cheng Bai glanced at Wang Yang. Wang Yang surrendered. “Alright, pretend I didn’t say anything.”
Cheng Bai felt the wound on his head faintly aching. He took out his cellphone and called the nurse over.
When Cheng Bai was pushed into the hospital building by the nurse, he looked at the place where Cheng Yuanyuan and Fu Beichen had been standing. At that moment, there was no one there. He glanced at the empty road, and a leaf shook slightly as it swayed down to where she once stood.
In the past, she was good to him. He had been indifferent. He had not been touched, nor happy. He simply took care of her out of responsibility, out of obligation. It could even be said that it was instinct, but he had never invested his emotions in it. When she drifted apart from him, he was frustrated as though he had lost something. But in the end he didn’t know what it was.
In the past, he had never been moved by her or stirred by his emotions.
Cheng Bai thought of Fu Beichen, a man considered to be his elder. He had seen him twice as a child, and his father was never short on praise for Fu Beichen’s excellence. Now that he saw him frequently, he felt that he was unable to make out Fu Beichen’s character.
“Once again I’m getting a free ride.” Yuanyuan was not as embarrassed now. She thought, Could it be a natural habit?
“Have you eaten?” Fu Beichen pulled down the air-conditioning blades in front of her seat so that cold air would not blow on her head.
“En, I ate in the hospital cafeteria. What about you?”
Yuanyuan looked at him and blurted out, “Would you like to sit at my house for a bit while I cook something for you?”
Fu Beichen cast her a sideways glance. There was a clear smile in his eyes. He looked back at the road ahead of him, “Okay, then I’ll trouble you.”
This was the first time that a man had entered Yuanyuan’s residence, and that man was Fu Beichen…she was embarrassed again.
“My house is a little messy.”
Fu Beichen smiled a little, “It’s better than Professor Fu’s house full of books, right?”
“Ah, better than that.” Yuanyuan opened the door, turning sideways to let Fu Beichen go in first. Fu Beichen stepped inside. The house wasn’t very big, but it was very warmly decorated. The window curtains were all open, and there was a vase full of Chinese bellflowers on the dining table. The light purple petals trembled slightly in the wind.
Fu Beichen turned his head to look at Yuanyuan. “Those are beautiful flowers.”
“Someone was pursuing a colleague in my office, but the colleague has a pollen allergy, so she gave them to me.”
Fu Beichen showed a smile. “En.”
Yuanyuan unconsciously asked, “What do you want to eat? Do you like dumplings? I’ll wrap some dumplings for you, alright?”
“You can also fold dumpling skins?”
Yuanyuan nodded, “En!”
Hearing Expert Fu’s tone, it seemed Yuanyuan felt a little proud? It was as if her family’s children were being praised. Yuanyuan shook her head. She thought, How come whenever you face Fu Beichen, you have such messy thoughts?
“You sit on the sofa and watch some TV, I’ll make the dumplings. Ah, what do you want to drink? I don’t have tea at home…”
“It’s okay, just boiled water is fine. I can do it myself.” Fu Beichen followed Yuanyuan into the kitchen.
Yuanyuan pointed him to a teacup and her hot water dispenser, then went to work on her dumpling project. “It’ll take a while to eat. Fu Beichen, if you’re hungry, you can eat some fruits from the fridge first.”
“I’m not hungry yet, take your time.”
Yuanyuan didn’t look back as she let out an “en”. Therefore, she didn’t see Fu Beichen standing not far behind with his cup of water, and she didn’t see the expression in his eyes as he looked at her. His gaze was focused solely on her at this time.
Yuanyuan had gotten acquainted with the nurses on the eighth floor. On this day, a nurse asked Yuanyuan, “What does Doctor Cheng normally like to do in private?”
Yuanyuan answered, “What does he do? Read books, go for runs, or maybe play games.”
“Doctor Cheng plays games?”
“He played in high school, but I’m not too sure now.”
“What type of girl does Doctor Cheng like?”
Yuanyuan thought about this question for a long time. Finally, she pointed to herself and said, “Look at me.”
“Someone like you?”
Yuanyuan shook her head: “It’s the opposite of me, the exact opposite.”
Who was the one that was unforgettable, who was the one that was dispensable, who was the one that was carved in the bones and engraved in the heart, who was the one that was sadly pitied? On this earth, emotions would never be equal. The only time they could be considered equal was when there were no emotions at all. And this was probably what people called “strangers”.
They weren’t strangers yet. But when all was said and done, she didn’t know where they stood. Yuanyuan thought, at least her heart and mind weren’t on him anymore.
In fact, the words she had spoken were not wrong after all. He simply didn’t like her.
And even when she bled for him, it was because she wanted to do it. Anyway, she’d had one idea at that time: She just wanted to be good to him. But now the feelings of like that she had for him so long ago had worn down. What remained was probably just the friendship of growing up together. However, she never regretted being good to him before.
It was the same as how she never regretted that when she was a child, at the end of summer, she would often secretly climb the osmanthus tree behind her yard to pick osmanthus flowers. She was a little afraid of heights, so every time she climbed she was trembling with fear. Once she had even fallen from the tree and injured herself—but it was all so that her mother could make the sweet-scented osmanthus cake her grandmother loved to eat. And she never once regretted it, even when her grandmother continued to dislike her up until she died.
She had never regretted anything she had done, because she understood thoroughly that she was not ashamed to face anyone. She had a clear conscience, so there was no need to regret.
On Friday afternoon, Yuanyuan received a call from Fu Beichen, saying that the jun ware porcelain necklace was already finished. She was overjoyed. In order to see the finished product as soon as possible, and also to express her thanks to Expert Fu, Yuanyuan decided to invite him to dinner. She felt that with Fu Beichen, she was not much different from a devoted fan.
Fu Beichen didn’t decline, but said that the company would be having a meeting later. Perhaps it would run until after work hours. Yuanyuan’s entire heart was bound to the necklace, so she nonchalantly said that she would go to his office and wait for him.
Fu Beichen smiled unconsciously. In front of him, Lu Xiaoning sighed emotionally in her heart: Her boss, who was like a century-old outstanding wine, was always earnest and disciplined. His tolerant and generous appearance was charming enough, but the tender smile he had on now made people unable to resist.
The Porcelain Research Institute of Qinghai City was located in the southernmost area of Xizhao Lake, west of the city. It happened to be diagonal to the compound where Fu Beichen once lived before. The Porcelain Research Institute was hidden behind the Provincial Porcelain Museum. If one had not done their homework in advance, most people would not pay attention to this old building.
It had a total of three floors, and was a 工-shaped structure with red roof tiles and blue bricks. The outer wall was covered with grape ivy. Yuanyuan thought, in this kind of building, it would certainly feel cool in the summer even without air conditioning.
After Yuanyuan registered at the security office at the gate, the security guard told her: “Teacher Fu has informed me beforehand. He said that this meeting probably won’t be over when you come, and he wanted you to go to his office and sit first. When you enter the building, turn right and go upstairs. 216 is Teacher Fu’s office.”
Yuanyuan smiled and thanked him.
The building was very quiet. Every step Yuanyuan took had a bit of an echo. Fu Beichen’s nameplate hung on the door of office 216. The office door was unlocked, so Yuanyuan pushed it open and walked in.
The office wasn’t large. In the middle of the room was a polished wooden work desk. There was a laptop on the table, and next to it some documents spread out. A neat stack of books sat piled beside the table. There was a sofa and coffee table against one side of the wall, and a large row of glass-door cabinets on the opposite wall. Inside the cabinets were large and small books, magazines, trophies of different shapes, medals, and porcelain of various colours. Yuanyuan walked over curiously. Since the owner wasn’t there, she didn’t open the door. She only stood to the side and looked at the rows.
Behind the innermost cabinet door, she saw a strange piece of porcelain. From the outside, it was similar to a jade spring bottle, only this one had been made a little crooked. There was a beak on the right side, but she couldn’t see what kind of animal head it was…Yuanyuan was bewildered. Nevertheless, if Fu Beichen kept it in his cabinet, how could it be bad?
But this thing didn’t even seem to be a defective product, so why was it being displayed here? With curiosity in her heart, she couldn’t help but open the cabinet door and take out the strange piece of porcelain. Yuanyuan was turning the bottle up and down to look at it when her hands suddenly stopped. Her eyes focused on the bottom of the bottle, motionless. There were two hand-engraved circles on the bottom—she couldn’t have been more familiar with this pattern! Sometimes when she didn’t feel like writing, she would draw those two circles to represent herself. It was convenient and effective. Yuanyuan suddenly thought of the first day she’d gone to Jingdezhen to interview. In the unburnt earthenware room, she’d indeed moulded an unfinished bottle. The prototype of this bottle came from a picture in her own collection—
When she was in the fifth grade of elementary school, there was a day that she’d been playing under the red bean tree. There, she encountered a lost elder brother asking for directions. She saw he was wearing a mask. The voice that penetrated through the mask was hoarse, and he coughed from time to time. She volunteered to show him the way, and they parted on either end of Taiping Bridge. She had always remembered the elder brother’s figure from behind; he was carrying an easel on his back and holding a painting bag. The young man was lean and tall, standing straight like bamboo. At that time, the sunshine was just right. It spilled over him, reflecting on him like he was an illusion. She looked at him for a while, and when she turned around, she stepped on a painting. A bottle was pictured: One with a slender neck, a hanging belly, and ringed feet. The bottle had a spout shaped like a phoenix head. It was so pretty. The young man was already nowhere to be found, so she accepted the painting, hoping that one day she would be able to meet him again.
At that time in Jingdezhen, she wanted to personally try making porcelain, so she consulted with the master to teach her some fundamental skills. As a result, she had unconsciously formed the bottle shape from the picture. Back then, she asked what the master thought, but he couldn’t say for sure. He thought it should be something close to a bottle. Indeed, there was nothing very great about her porcelain product. So she never thought the master would put it in the kiln. And she never would have thought that nearly two months later, she would see it in Fu Beichen’s office. This little porcelain thing which was not even a defective product hadn’t been thrown away. It was fired out, and even entered the Porcelain Research Institute! This was how many virtues the porcelain had cultivated in its last life. Yuanyuan thought about this and couldn’t help but laugh.
“Is that thing really funny?” Fu Beichen happened to open the door and walk in. When he saw Yuanyuan holding the porcelain bottle, his heart trembled inexplicably.
“You’re back.” Yuanyuan quickly put the porcelain bottle back and closed the cabinet door. “Sorry, I moved the things in your cabinet without permission.”
“It’s fine.” Fu Beichen smiled but didn’t intend to let her off, “Do you like that bottle?”
Yuanyuan couldn’t seem to get past it, so she summoned the courage to say, “Thank you so much for thinking so highly of my bottle and putting it in your office for research.”
“You mean, this is your work?”
“Yes!” Yuanyuan explained, “If you don’t believe me just look. On the bottom of the bottle I engraved something with my own hands—two circles.”
Fu Beichen didn’t go over to examine it right away. He simply looked at her and said: “This bottle is so special.”
Yuanyuan sighed. “I know, you want to say it’s ugly on another level, right? But that’s because I’m not skilled. Its true appearance is very beautiful.”
“True appearance?” Fu Beichen smiled. “So this isn’t what it really looks like?”
“Of course not.” Yuanyuan pursed her lips, feeling that it would be too troublesome to explain from the beginning. So she simply said, “I have a painting at home of a very beautiful bottle. I tried to make it after its likeness.”
“Oh…” Fu Beichen looked pensive, but ultimately didn’t ask more. He went to his desk drawer and took out the finished pendant to give to her.
Yuanyuan thanked him and accepted it. When she opened the wooden box with anticipation, she found that the jun ware porcelain, which had great potential, had been polished into the shape of a flame. The craftsmanship was intricate. Such a pendant shape was very rare, and coupled with the porcelain’s distinct, colourful glaze, the entire pendant was like a phoenix flapping its multicoloured wings, about to rise from the flames!
“It’s so beautiful!” Yuanyuan released a heartfelt sigh.
“I’ll put it on for you,” Fu Beichen said.
“Yi?” Yuanyuan was about to say no, but Fu Beichen had already taken the pendant and walked behind her.
He gently moved her loose hair to one side. Yuanyuan thought she must have been blushing.
Fu Beichen unfastened the metal clasp of the red rope. Two refined, fair hands circled from the front of her neck to the back. Yuanyuan felt his hand touch the scar behind her neck, and then he lightly stroked it. Soon after, she heard him say: “Alright.”
Yuanyuan bowed her head, resisting the urge to fan her desire. “Thank you.”
“Yuanyuan, that year when you saw me at the Cheng family’s house, you should have come down to say hello to me.”
“En?” Yuanyuan raised her head. What did that mean?
Fu Beichen smiled, but didn’t say anything more.
When he took Yuanyuan to the parking lot, they came across several colleagues who all showed expressions of surprise. Although Fu Beichen wasn’t a social person, his friend spectrum was very vast. From time to time guests would come to sit in his office, but there had never been a young girl.
Fu Beichen turned a blind eye to these meaningful looks and said to his colleagues, “See you tomorrow.” Then he left with Yuanyuan.
After dinner that day, the beautiful Shen Yu went to H University Affiliated Hospital to see Cheng Bai. When she finished expressing her sympathies, she suddenly thought of something and asked: “Cheng Bai, I want to find Cheng Yuanyuan for something, can you give me her phone number?”
Cheng Bai lifted his head to look at her. “What for? You can tell me and I’ll pass it on for you.”
Shen Yu didn’t insist. Seeing how earnestly he was peeling a pear with beautiful, clear-cut movements, she couldn’t help but say: “Your level of knife skills is really good, no wonder you can be a doctor.”
Cheng Bai handed the peeled pear to Beautiful Shen and said, “According to your logic, I should be a chef.”
Shen Yu had a look of disbelief on her face as she took the pear. “You actually peeled fruit for me.”
Cheng Bai pulled out a paper towel to wipe the fruit knife. “I just wanted to use the knife, nothing more.”
That night after Fu Beichen sent Yuanyuan home, he went back to his apartment. He didn’t take the Diazepam and fell asleep instantly. Still, his dream came quickly.
Under the oil lamp, two people sat opposite each other with a game of chess between them.
“Fourth elder brother, why aren’t you talking?” He sat upright and still, extending his hand to drop a chess piece.
“I don’t agree.” The man on the other side resembled him by seven or eight points.
“That princess has absolutely never seen me before! Why is there a marriage decree, why must I take a wife?” He was angry as he placed another piece.
The other man glanced at him then put a piece down, determining the winner and loser. “I’ve never won against you. But today, you suffered a crushing defeat. Don’t forget that you will always lose if you’re not careful.”
“Then what about Wanyu?” He was ruined. “That day she was so happy when she told me that she would personally fire porcelain for her dowry…”
“Our father always said that among our generation, the one most likely to be a senior official is you. You know the weight of your words.” The man paused and looked at him fiercely. “If you insist on obstinately destroying this family, then she will never use those dowries in her lifetime. It’s not that I won’t let you marry, it’s just at a later date. You can’t even wait?”
It was a reprimand, like a sudden clap of thunder striking the ground, as good as a blow to the face. Fu Beichen suddenly woke up from his dream only to feel a cold sweat all over his body.
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